The Lister List

Swedish Stars

The Swedish Star

In his contribution of 15th January, Steve Theil writes:

"If I understand correctly, Froebel (b.1782 - d. 1852) included this fold in his curriculum during the early eighteen hundreds"

I'm afraid that there is no justification for this statement. We know very little of Froebel's own paperfolding. He left only one fragment on the subject which is unillustrated and turgidly difficult to understand, although a little light is thrown on it by comparing it with the writings of some of his followers. However, it turns out to relate to exercises in elementary mathematical folding and not to recreational paperfolding as we know it. Undoubtedly, Froebel knew some of the traditional models, but, while he may indeed have been familiar with the "Swedish" Star, we have no evidence for it.

There is clearly now room here to give anything like an adequate account of Froebel and the Kindergarten movement. I hope the following notes will help to clarify the position, although I fear they may confuse it!

Froebel did indeed encourage the use of paperfolding in the Kindegartens, although we do not know how much of the systm was personally attributable to him and how much to his followers. Froebelian paperfolding took three forms: elementary mathematical foldling (Forms of Truth)folding of traditional paperfolded representational figures (Forms of Life) and (much the most important in the Kindergarten movement) abstract patterns formed by blintzing and elaboration of the blintz. (Although this particular name was wholly unknown until the 1950s). Forms of Life were not really considered creative (because they appeared to be fixed) and were used mainly as an introoduction to the Forms of Beautiy where the child coud exercise his creativity by creating ever new patterns. (It is one of the tragedies of paperfolding history that the Froebelians never discovered creative paperfolding as we know it today.) Paper cutting and paper weaving and a whole range of other handicrafts were also advocated in the Kindergartens. The basic activities were called "gifts" and the secondary ones:"occupations". The idea was to challenge and stimulate the child and to enable him (or her) to discover the principles of (say) elementary mathematics by play. Paperfolding is variously called a Gift or an Occupation. Perhaps the most famous of Froebel's occupations was gardening and at his first kindergarten at Bad Blankenberg, which he opened in 1837, each child had his own plot to tend. Sadly the venture failed and Froebel opened a women's teachers' training college. By 1850, Froebel-trained teachers were spreading his ideas around Europe. The development and spread of of the kindergarten and its ideas took place in the second half of the 19th Century, after Froebel's own death in 1852. Most of the detailed work was not his own, but was based firmly on his own principles. Inevitably, however, his ideas were inevitably developed and modified by his successors.

I have looked through all of my fairly extensive collection of copies and extacts relatiing to Froebel and the Kinderfgarten, but I have found not one instance of the "Swedish Star" (to give it one of its popular names). Admittedly, my papers are angled firmly towards paperfolding and not other activities, and I would be the last to deny that the Swedish Star was taught in the Froebel Kindergartens. Paper Weaving was a popular activity (I have seen examples of this in the museums at Bad Blankenberg and Osaka), and the Swedish Star is a sort of weaving, so it is very possible. As the 19th Century progressed , the Froebel kindergartens multiplied and diverged in their practices. Other systems of child education were introduced and the average infant school operated with a hotchpotch of systems. The Froebel kindergarten was eventually, for the most part, merged with the general system of child education.

In the volume of Froebel's letters there is one which mentions him as having enjoyed paperfolding with his brother when they were young boys. Undoubtedly there was throughout Europe at this time a widespread reserve or fund of child activities of which paperfolding was only one. Paperfolding at that time was not differentiated from other paper activities. In fact the very word "Paperfolding" (or rather "Papierfalten") may well have been invented by the Froebel movement for its activities. I think it is safe to say that the Swedish Star was one of those traditional paper "tricks" and formed part of this collective fund of child activities. It was not confined to any particular region or to a particular sect or denomination but was a general European inheritance. The only reason we don't know more about it is because childish acivities were not considered important and were not recorded. Froebel changed all that!

Froebel had a somewhat mystical approach to life and belief. He strongly perceived the presence and unity of Nature and its importance. A child was part of Nature, whose growth was to be tended and nurtured. (Hence, the "Kindergarten"). Perceiving the unity of Nature, he spent much time as a student seeking the key in the underlying and unifying presence of mathematics in all Creation and Life..No doubt in some aspects of his beliefs he resembled the Pietists, but he was not himself a Pietist.

To summarise, it would be wrong to attribute the Swedish Star to Froebel or to the movement he founded. It would equally be wrong to imply that the Swedish Star was spread by the Kindergartens. The knowlege of the Star was much wider. However, it would also be wrong to contend that the Swedish Star was unknown and never taught in the Kindergartens.

David Lister Grimsby, England

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